Song of the Week #3: "My Funny Friend and Me"- The Emperor's New Groove
The older you get, the less special your birthday becomes. But a few years ago I came up with a solution- stop celebrating birthdays and start celebrating birthweeks. And so every year on the week of my birthday, I spend seven days spoiling myself in big and small ways, and that extends to The Great Oscar Baiter. And so, in addition to covering seven of my favorite films in our Year in Shorts, I’ll also choose our Song of the Week (which might be more accurately dubbed Song of Every Other Week) from one of my all time favorite movies- The Emperor’s New Groove.
Despite being one of the greatest film comedies of all time, The Emperor’s New Groove didn’t make much of a splash at the Oscars. That’s hardly surprising, of course. The Academy has always had a bias against animated films and silly comedies, especially when it comes to the major awards. While Eartha Kitt and Patrick Warburton gave Oscar-worthy performances (especially when compared to some of that year’s actual nominees), the category’s rules prevent that from happening. And despite the fact that none other than David Mamet said the film had “one of the most brilliantly innovative scripts Hollywood has produced in recent years”, The Emperor’s New Groove, technically speaking, didn’t have a screenplay to nominate. Hell, Best Animated Feature was still a year away, so the film couldn’t even get nominated for that. Thank God, then, for the Best Song category. Despite the fact that the shift from The Kingdom of the Sun to The Emperor’s New Groove resulted in most of the songs Sting wrote getting cut (including, unfortunately, Yzma’s epic “Snuff Out the Light”), a couple tunes remained intact. And one of them, the Tom Jones-performed “A Perfect World”, was absolutely Oscar worthy. Not only is it a great song in its own right, but it perfectly sets up the film, establishing the character of Kuzco and the tone of the movie in just a few minutes. It’s one of the best scenes in a film filled with great moments. And as such, it’s a little confusing that the Academy decided to nominate “My Funny Friend and Me”, instead.
For starters, "My Funny Friend and Me" is an End Credits Song, the bane to Best Original Song aficionados everywhere. Well, that's not entirely fair. As I said in our last entry, the End Credits Song isn't always a bad thing; at their best, the End Credits Songs can serve as an extension of the films they belong to, summing up the themes of the film while also matching its tone. But at its worst, the End Credits Song sounds exactly like what it almost always is- an entirely unrelated song just shoved in at the end for the sake of having a song there- and, of course, to try and snag an Oscar nomination. And "My Funny Friend and Me" is probably one of the worst offenders in that regard. Maybe "My Funny Friend and Me" would have made sense at the end of The Kingdom of the Sun, especially if it was meant to be performed in the film itself; Disney musicals of the era famously ended with pop covers of the songs present in the movie proper. Of course, those covers were always terrible (yes, even that one; that one too), but maybe in the context of a regular musical number it could have worked.
But as a capper on The Emperor's New Groove, it's a total failure. How does a schmaltzy ballad about friendship fit with the movie? I'm not saying that the film doesn't have heart; but it's never overly sentimental or sappy. At its heart, The Emperor's New Groove is a goofy comedy, more like a (barely) feature length Looney Tunes cartoon than anything you'd expect from a Disney movie. That's what makes it so brilliant. Yeah, there's some warmth, and a nice lesson about not being selfish and a genuinely good character arc for Kuzco, but that's all just gravy. It's not the heart of the film in a way that this song suggests. Having "My Funny Friend and Me" play at the end of The Emperor's New Groove would be like having "My Heart Will Go On" play during the end credits of Duck Soup.
That's not an entirely fair comparison, though. At least "My Heart Will Go On" is a good song. (Well, at least it's a memorable song.) "My Funny Friend and Me", on the other hand, is just some generic adult alternative easy listening garbage. It was bad enough when Phil Collins stuffed the Tarzan soundtrack with a bunch of Phil Collins songs vaguely related to the film, but at least those Phil Collins songs were fun. They had melodramatic lyrics and Phil Collins' melodramatic delivery. What does "My Funny Friend and Me" have? Sting singing way out of his range and confusing orchestration? What does a smooth jazz riff and sweeping violins have to do with each other, let alone The Emperor's New Groove?
Admittedly, it took me a while to discover any of this. In spite of all the times I've seen The Emperor's New Groove, I'd never heard "My Funny Friend and Me" until relatively recently. And there's a very good reason for that- I always turned it the hell off the second it started playing. Going immediately from Kronk's expression of pride in his scout troop to the opening, simpering notes of Sting's warbling is such a bizarre tonal shift that what reaction can one have aside from disgust? How can anyone listen to this song without their body and soul instantly rejecting it? I'm not familiar with "Things Have Changed", the Bob Dylan song from Wonder Boys which beat it, but I'm certain it was far worthier of the award. How could it not be?
And yet, in spite of all I've said against it, I'm grateful for "My Funny Friend and Me", and its absurd Oscar nomination. Because of it, The Emperor's New Groove gets a place as an Oscar nominee. It's part of the conversation, if only a tangential one. And sure, in the grand scheme of things, that doesn't mean much. But here at The Great Oscar Baiter it means a great deal! (For starters, it means that whenever our inevitable podcast gets off the ground, we'll get to do an episode on it.) There are a great deal of songs whose undeserving nominations piss me off to no end. And there are a large number of songs from movies who would otherwise never be an Oscar nominee getting recognized because of them. (The Best Song category has about as bizarre a track record as Best Makeup.) But in this one case, I can't bring myself to be mad about it. So thank you Sting, for writing a terrible, Oscar Baity song, just to get the film recognized by the Academy in some small way. I appreciate the sacrifice. Just so long as I don't have to listen to it.
Have any suggestions for the next Short of the Week? Contact me on Twitter via @NoahGoucher!
The Great Oscar Baiter is a not-for-profit work of criticism. All images herein are property of their respective owners and are protected under Fair Use.